Social media users turning to harsh language, undermining due process


Kernel Opinion SIG

If you’ve been watching the news this week, you’ll recognize these comments: “Just hang him.” “This POS should never go free.” “Death penalty.”

These are just a few of the comments I’ve seen on social media news links aimed at Jacob Heil, the 18-year-old UK freshman who was arrested and charged with a DUI after hitting a four-year-old who later died. 

Before proceeding, let me make it clear that I do not in any way condone underage drinking or drinking while driving at any age. I do not defend the actions of Heil in anyway. This column is not about him; this is about the masses who are quick to sacrifice their humanity in anger. 

My heart bleeds for the family of the child who will never again hold their baby. It is tragic to lose someone so young, whose life had not even begun. I will not dwell on this, because the family has asked for privacy, and no words I can say will soothe the pain they feel right now. 

I am also disappointed by so many people on social media who lose humanity the second someone faces the consequences for things they themselves have done. It’s easy to throw words into the virtual black hole that is the internet, but these words have real-life ramifications. The old saying “sticks and stones break my bones, but words will never hurt me” is a cruel deception. Words can cause suicides. Words can cause mental breakdowns. Words can shake the foundation of democracy.

We supposedly live in a civilized culture where laws hand out justice, not angry mobs at midnight. Yet there is something sadly reminiscent of self-appointed posses, lynching’s or public hangings when people take to social media to suggest that some crimes deserve a bypass of the law. That some criminals deserve public humiliation. That some criminals do not deserve due process.

Do you know what happens when there is no due process? There is no police accountability, no protection from torture, no guarantee against needless deaths. 

Fortunately, we have juries so citizens can share the responsibility for issuing punishment upon criminals, which is a solemn privilege and a weighty responsibility, not a job for social media. Sure, these comments are social media users’ free speech right, but they also perpetuate lack of empathy and humanity. This is harmful and damaging and not remotely reflective of a civilized democracy. It reminds me of the colosseum: of people who delight in other people’s punishment. Let’s steer clear of this mindset and these actions.  

The law will see that justice is done in this case. I ask that people restrain themselves from making thoughtless and inhuman comments on social media that no doubt only cause more pain for everyone involved